More than 500 people found their way to a downtown parking lot on Friday for a pork burger barbecue and rally held to raise moral support for Alberta’s struggling hog farmers.
Probably half of them showed up for the free lunch, says feed supplier George Croome, who helped put the event together.
The rest showed up to show their support for farmers whose incomes have taken a nose dive since H1N1 flu was located late in April in a small herd near Rocky Mountain House, said Croome, who spoke to as many people as he could during the event.
Arnold and Anita Van Ginkel’s farm remains in quarantine and 500 of their 2,200 animals were humanely destroyed to make room for the new piglets being produced.
There is no indication so far of when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to lift the quarantine, provincial veterinarian Gerald Hauer said from his office in Edmonton.
The industry put on the barbecue to encourage consumers to keep eating pork and to buy lots of Alberta pork, said Croome.
Red Deer residents Anne and Larry Slinger said they came down specifically to show support for Alberta pork producers.
“I can’t believe this is going on. All because they called it swine flu, then you get the politics. That’s sad,” said Anne Slinger.
Further up the line, Rob Mearns said his appetite for pork has not been affected one bit as he plastered mustard and ketchup on his burger.
“Oh yeah, I’m a big fan of pork,” Mearns said with a grin as he closed his bun and prepared to chow down.
Alberta Pork delegate Peter Entz, manager of hog operations for the Long Pine Hutterite Colony, east of Stettler, said consumers need to know the food is safe and that only healthy animals are allowed into the food chain.
Entz said the drop in prices is costing farmers at least $20 per pig at a time when hog producers thought they were finally going to see some relief after three very lean years.
Losses have been so bad that even the Hutterite colonies, which account for about half of the hog production in Alberta, are now emptying their barns and switching to manufactured goods instead, said Entz.
Former hog producer Art Goelema, territory manager for Peak Swine genetics, said markets have gained strength in the last two weeks, but producers are still losing money.
“The industry needs government assistance, otherwise we could lose this whole industry.”
Goelema said it will take only one more small push for Alberta’s pork industry to collapse.